Psalm 124 - We have escaped like a bird

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone the raging waters.
Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 124 (NRSV)
19th Sunday of Pentecost, Year B

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, then they would have swallowed us up alive. The flood would have swept us away, the raging waters would have gone over us.

We are fortunate if we have never had an experience of deliverance, if we have never been in fear for our lives or wellbeing. That is not the experience of most people, for most of human history and even today.

The cause of our danger may not matter so much. Natural disaster. Enemies personal and impersonal. Sometimes we are caught in nets of our own making. Yet the experience of seeing destruction come our way is terrifying. We may fight against it, we may try to run from it, but sometimes we are caught and can imagine or even see the jaws of doom opening.

To be rescued from calamity is almost beyond words. Deliverance is its own kind of shock, especially if you are already or always anticipating the worst. Sometimes we are confused, and mistake our deliverer for our destroyer.

Yet there are those who have taken on the mission of rescue. Having participated in the rescue of both animals and people, it is a special discipline, requiring preparation, patience, the ability to work with those who are fearful, suffering, enraged, and otherwise difficult. The best are able to bring calm, but there are times when you just need to press ahead. You try to work safely, but it is work that comes with some danger. Animals come with teeth and claws, as do people.

Yet the psalm envisions God much like the painter does, working to free those trapped in the enemy's snare. You can see her working patiently to free one bird at a time, now a nuthatch, next a parrot, then a sparrow. You can see the holes in the net where some have already flown away free. Just like we've heard from the psalm and the testimony of so many of God's people: we have escaped like a bird from the snare. Our help is in the name of the Lord.

Credits:
Uncredited. Yellow warbler in mist net, edited. Public domain. Netting is used to capture birds for research and banding.
Christen Mattix, The Fowler’s Snare, watercolor, 2014. Used by permission.

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